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The Rays made magic happen in Boston 9 years ago

Let’s hope history repeats itself at Fenway.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays are playing in meaningful games in September for the first time since 2013. The Rays are long shots for the playoffs, but it’ll be fun to watch them as they strive for that golden opportunity.

Tonight, they’ll kick off a three game series in Boston as they take on the American League East-leading Red Sox. The series is huge, as the Rays need to win every series the rest of the way in order to have a shot in the Wild Card race.

Nine years ago — with the dates almost perfectly aligned — the Rays began a huge three game series in Boston as well.

Entering play on September 8th, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays clung to a 1.5 game lead over the Red Sox in the division. The two teams had the 2nd and 3rd best records in the American League so whoever lost out on the division would surely win the Wild Card spot.

However, this series was about more than just making the playoffs or winning the division, it was about making a statement.

The Rays and Red Sox had been at each other’s throats all season, literally.

The two teams had played hotly contested games all season long, but the home team had always been the victor. If the Rays wanted to further cement themselves as the new dominant team in the division, they had to win at Fenway.

So on September 8th, 2008 when they took on Jon Lester and the Red Sox, emotions were high...and the Rays laid an egg.

Edwin Jackson pitched a great game for the Rays, but couldn’t overcome a rough first inning in which Boston scored three runs. That’s all they need (and would score) as Jon Lester held the Rays in check for close to eight innings and than Jonathan Papelbon nailed the game shut.

Rays lead in the division was now at a half game with two games left in Boston.

On September 9th, 2008, the Tampa Bay Rays selected the contracts of C Michel Hernandez and 1B Dan Johnson from Triple-A Durham, a decision which little did the Rays brass know would go on to be one of the single greatest franchise altering moves in franchise history.

Dan Johnson was supposed to start that night’s game in Boston with Daisuke Matsuzaka going for the Red Sox, but as fate would have it, weather delayed Dan Johnson’s arrival to the ballpark, forcing him out of the lineup.

Things would start out rough for the Rays as Boston took a one run lead immediately in the first inning. However, the Rays would get right back into in the third, thanks to Matsuzaka losing command and the Rays scored a run without the ball ever leaving the infield. They’d take the lead thanks to a sacrifice fly from Cliff Floyd later in the inning.

The teams would each tally a couple more runs to make it a 3-2 game in the bottom of the 8th inning. That’s when Jason Bay — who’d been a Ray for 15 minutes during the trade deadline — came up and clobbered a two run home run to give the Red Sox a 4-3 lead and give the Rays three outs to work with against Papelbon, who had been one the top relievers in baseball up to that point in the season.

So what does Joe Maddon do?

He sends his latest roster addition, Dan Johnson, up to the plate to make his Rays debut.

Johnson worked a full count against Papelbon, then uncoiled on a 96mph fastball that soared over the Boston bullpen in centerfield and into the seats to tie the game.

Under some of the most improbable circumstances, Dan Johnson came through.

The game was just tied though, the Rays still had to win.

An out later, Fernando Perez and Dioner Navarro would record back-to-back doubles to give the Rays the lead. In the bottom half of the 9th, Troy Percival walked the first batter he faced. With two outs, the runner (JaCoby Ellsbury) swiped second base, but Percival would get Coco Crisp (the same Coco Crisp who instigated the brawl earlier) to pop out to end the game, ensuring the Rays would still lead the division when they left Boston.

“I told him, ‘I don’t know who the heck you are, but nice hitting,’ - Don Zimmer speaking to Dan Johnson after the game

The following night, the Rays and Red Sox played another epic, this time they needed 14 innings to complete the game. The teams traded runs over the first three innings and then gridlocked behind powerful bullpen efforts until Carlos Pena launched a three run home run over the Monster to give the Rays a 4-1 advantage in the 14th inning. They’d hold on to win, 4-2 and regain their 1.5 game advantage in the division.

The Rays would go on to win the American League East that year and advance through the playoffs, defeating the White Sox in the ALDS and the Red Sox during an incredible seven game series in the ALCS. Unfortunately, the magic ran out when they reached the World Series as they’d lose to the Phillies in five games.